Marie Claire (UK Edition) - February 1992

 

 


SAM NEILL:
A NEW ZEALAND MAN ABROAD

 

Sam Neill was recently putting his two daughters to bed at the end of a day's shooting in Buenos Aires when he noticed the elder one crying. 'I wish we could be at home for a change,' she said to her father. The confusion is understandable. But, as he ruefully admits, he could have responded, 'Which home?' Neill's current film, Death In Brunswick, is set in Australia; this will shortly be followed by a co-starring role with William Hurt in the Wim Wenders film Until The End Of The World, an epic involving a chase around the world that was filmed in eleven different countries (it was only the constraints of the budget that reduced the number from seventeen). And this is only the latest stage in a life that has been spent largely in transit.

Neill was born in Belfast, the son of a New Zealand army officer. When he was eight. his family moved back to New Zealand where Neill completed his education. After finishing his degree he began to act and make documentaries. A film career in New Zealand seemed improbable, to say the least, but in 1977 he got the lead role in Roger Donaldson's Sleeping Dogs, the first New Zealand feature film for fifteen years and the first ever to open in the United States.

It was clear that if Neill wanted to work he would have to go abroad, and in 1979 he won the romantic lead in Gillian Armstrong's My Brilliant Career, one of the films that spearheaded the great Australian cinematic revival. Neill's performance attracted attention and ever since, he has, in his own words, 'followed the work'. He played the title role in Reilly: Ace Of Spies for British TV and Kane in the American TV mini-series, Kane And Abel, adapted from the novel by Jeffrey Archer. When I recently met him in London he was just passing through, having spent the last three years making five films in a row. Now 40, he was a relaxed figure, casually dressed in a leather jacket, strikingly handsome and looking rather like a world-weary Kevin Costner. I observed that he seems able to float between highly commercial work like The Hunt For Red October and the forthcoming Memoirs Of An Invisible Man (in which he co-stars with Chevy Chase and Daryl Hannah) and quirkier work like Death In Brunswick and Until The End Of The World. 'I think I prefer the quirky individual work, but each kind fuels the other.' His leading-man looks always have a suggestion of something strange behind them. He recalled the making of A Cry In The Dark in which, starring opposite Meryl Streep, he played the one who cracked up. 'I remember the excitement of going into work every day to see what she would do.'

Neill is now based in Los Angeles with his family, and he is the first actor I have met to praise the city, not just for its proximity to the film industry but for its innovative modern architecture. But where is he going to end up? 'I'm not sure if I like that expression, but New Zealand will always be my home. There just isn't any work there.'

 

 

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